- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

The University of the District of Columbia Senate begins an investigation today into the selection of the school’s new provost, a family friend of the university president who hired her even though she lacked the requisite doctoral degree.

A similar investigation by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics cleared UDC President William L. Pollard last month of breaking ethics laws in hiring his friend for the $137,000-a-year job. But faculty leaders called the investigation a “whitewash” and remain opposed to provost’s continued tenure.

The UDC Senate, a governing body made up of 34 elected faculty members, previously called on the school’s trustees to oust Mr. Pollard, citing lost confidence in his leadership. A chief grievance was lasting resentment over his hiring of Wilhelmina M. Reuben-Cooke as provost and vice president of academic affairs.

“In fairness to the faculty members at the University who have aspired to high academic achievement, we cannot permit someone to serve as the provost/vice president of academic affairs who does not have an earned doctorate degree,” said Sidney O. Hall, president of the faculty senate, in a letter advising the administration of the in-house investigation.

“We have waited patiently for the Board [of trustees] and management to correct and right this embarrassing situation,” the letter said. “We cannot, nor should we, wait on external forces to compel university fiduciaries to act with integrity, and to do what is proper and in the best interest of students, faculty, staff, and residents of the District of Columbia.”

The investigation, which will be conducted by the senate’s 12-member steering committee, has requested members of the search panel that signed off on Mr. Pollard’s decision to hire Mrs. Reuben-Cooke to testify at hearings, which begin on campus today.

However, the school administration has told the search committee members and others requested to testify that the faculty senate lacks the authority to conduct the investigation and that appearing at the hearings is strictly voluntary.

“Anything they are doing is not to be considered an official university activity,” said Pollard spokesman Michael Andrews. “We stand by the ruling of the elections and ethics commission.”

Mr. Pollard and Mrs. Reuben-Cooke declined to be interviewed for this article.

Mr. Pollard is among the finalists being considered for the top post at Louisiana’s Grambling State University — a candidacy that rankled some D.C. Council members who were disappointed that he would quit after less than two years at UDC.

Mr. Hall, a longtime education professor at the land-grant university, pointed out in the letter that the deans at UDC and all new faculty members are required to have a doctoral degree, commonly referred to as a Ph.D. Only the dean of UDC’s David A. Clarke School of Law is not required to have a Ph.D.

“It is procedurally unprincipled for someone with fewer academic credentials to pass judgment on individuals with greater academic credentials in matter of promotion, evaluation, and academic achievement,” he wrote.

As UDC’s top academic officer, Mrs. Reuben-Cooke makes decisions on academic policy, hiring, promotions and granting of tenure to faculty members at the District’s only public university.

The school’s national advertisement for the provost job listed the minimum education requirement as a doctoral degree or its equivalent and the minimum work experience as an established record as a senior academic administrator.

Mrs. Reuben-Cooke, whose husband, D.C. lawyer Edmund D. Cooke, helped Mr. Pollard secure his $200,000-a-year UDC job, holds a juris doctor degree, or law degree, from the University of Michigan Law School. She worked for 18 months as an associate dean for academic affairs at the Syracuse University College of Law.

The bulk of her professional experience is as a law professor at Syracuse University, where Mr. Pollard ran the school of social work for 14 years before taking the reins at UDC in July 2002.

Mr. Pollard has argued that a law degree is equivalent to a doctorate, and the city’s ethics investigators in clearing him ruled that the search committee shared that opinion.

Still, Black’s Law Dictionary and legal scholars — including professors at Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s alma mater — draw a distinction between a juris doctorate and more advanced law degrees, such a master’s degree or a doctorate in juridical science.

During his term, Mr. Pollard has been criticized by students, faculty and the D.C. Council for the proliferation of university executives making $100,000-plus salaries and for the decrepit condition of the campus while he spent $263,000 renovating his university residence.

The D.C. Inspector General also is investigating whether a theft of records in July from the UDC finance office is connected with the improvements made to Mr. Pollard’s home.

The continued opposition to Mrs. Reuben-Cooke, coupled with the law school’s failure to win full accreditation last year and the university’s teams being caught repeatedly breaking National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, only add to the long-standing troubles at UDC, which has had a history of financial mismanagement, poor academic performance and accreditation concerns.

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